March Madness bracket offers students a rare opportunity to safely bond

By Josh Rosenstein

Without typical watch parties or traditional in-person attendance allowed during this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament, fans are heavily leaning on one March Madness hallmark that the pandemic can’t cancel: bracket challenges. 

In a bracket challenge, fans compete against one another to see who can predict the results of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament to the highest degree of accuracy. At Middlebury, this age-old tradition has enticed various clubs and groups, from the rowing team to the fourth floor of Stewart Hall. 

Model United Nations is one club that’s organized a bracket challenge this month. It’s an annual event for the club, so club member Avery Dyer ’21 was determined to continue the tradition. Dyer said it’s given her a chance to bond with some of the younger members on the team, which is a refreshing opportunity given the restrictions in place. Similarly, Zeke Golnik ’22 organized a bracket challenge for the rowing team, which has faced its own assortment of restrictions this academic year. 

“So far it’s been a lot of fun watching the games and seeing whose brackets are doing the best,” Golnik explained. “I’m really happy I started the bracket league, and I plan on doing similar things like it in the future.”

The fourth floor of Stewart Hall also has an ongoing bracket challenge. Cameron Riley ’24 coordinated the challenge and is relishing the opportunity to interact with his neighbors in a novel way, despite sitting last in the standings.

“A lot of people said that they didn’t know anything [about college basketball],” Riley said. “But I told them that it’d be fun and that they should do it, and they did, and it seems like everyone is having a good time.”

Perhaps the biggest tournament challenge at Middlebury was created by Aidan Shepardson ’24, who invited the entire class of 2024 to his challenge. Shepardson received 30 entries, including members from all five freshman residential halls.

In a year defined by limited social events, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament has given Middlebury students a rare chance to tie the community together, and students are taking full advantage. 

Correction: A previous version of this article referred to the NCAA basketball tournament without specifying that it was the men’s tournament.